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Shun Kitchen Knives Review: Are They Worth It?

Shun is widely recognized as one of the top kitchen knife brands in the world.

But what makes them so special? Are they worth the high price?

In this in-depth review, I break down the pros and cons of Shun kitchen knives.

You’ll get the details about how they look, feel, and perform (with lots of pictures). You’ll also learn how they’re made, how much they cost, and much more.

So, if you are interested in Shun kitchen knives but want an unbiased review before deciding whether to buy them, keep reading.


Use the links below to navigate the review:


Company Background

Shun’s parent company, KAI Group, was founded in 1908 in Seki City, Japan.

Located in the Gifu Prefecture, Seki City has been Japan’s home of forged blades for over 800 years.

The company began as a manufacturer of razors and folding knives but eventually added kitchen cutlery to its lineup.

In 2002, the KAI Group founded Shun Cutlery to bring Japanese-style knives to western markets. Before Shun, home cooks in western markets were almost exclusively using heavy European-style knives. Shun became a pioneer in bringing Japanese-style blades to the rest of the world.

The thinner and sharper blades offering exceptional precision gave Shun an advantage in the marketplace, accelerating the brand’s popularity.

Today, Shun knives are distributed and sold in more than 30 countries but are still manufactured in Seki City.

Although Shun knives are expensive, they’re widely regarded as one of the top brands on the market, thanks to the gorgeous and functional designs, ultra-sharp edges, and superior edge retention.

All of Shun’s knives are handcrafted, following a process of over 100 steps. The company pairs ancient traditions with modern materials to craft knives that are a grade above the competition. History is a core value for Shun Cutlery, and it’s infused into each product it offers.

Now that you know a bit about the brand, let’s dive into the details about the knives.

Knife Collections

Shun offers a wide variety of Japanese-style knife collections, each with distinct materials, designs, and price points.

The table below gives you the quick facts about each collection, but I’ll dive deeper into the details throughout the review.

Scroll or swipe to view the entire chart.

CollectionBlade ConstructionHandle MaterialPrice
Shun Premier GrayVG-Max cutting core and 68 micro-layers of Damascus claddingGrey PakkaWood$$$$ (view on Shun.KaiUSA.com)
Shun Classic BlondeVG-Max cutting core and 68 micro-layers of Damascus claddingBlonde PakkaWood$$$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun ClassicVG-Max cutting core and 68 micro-layers of Damascus claddingEbony PakkaWood$$$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun Dual Core71 micro-layers of high-carbon, high-chromium VG10 & VG2 stainless steelEbony PakkaWood$$$$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun PremierVG-Max cutting core and 68 micro-layers of Damascus claddingWalnut PakkaWood$$$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun KansoAUS10A high-carbon stainless steelTagayasan (or wenge)$$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun SoraVG10 steel on the cutting edge and Japanese 420J stainless steel on the blade upperTextured PP/TPE polymer blend$$ (view on Amazon)
Shun Seki MagorokuVG-MAX steel on the cutting edge and SUS420J2 on the blade upperBlonde PakkaWood$$$ (view on Shun.KaiUSA.com)

Construction

Shun knives are manufactured by hand. So when you hold a Shun knife, you can be sure that an artisan held it in theirs as they carefully crafted it.

All Shun blades are forged using traditional Japanese methods, but the process varies across collections.

The Classic and Premier collections feature Damascus-clad blades.

Damascus pattern on Shun kitchen knife blade
Damascus pattern on Shun kitchen knife blade

Damascus cladding is when metal alloys are layered and folded while hot before being shaped into the blade and ground from the spine to the edge. The number of layers varies, but most Shun knives have 34 layers per side, 68 total.

In addition to grinding, Shun artisans bead blast or acid etch each blade, creating a texture that prevents food from sticking.

The acid etching process makes the carbon layers of the blade darker, while the other metals remain light. The result is a beautiful wave pattern down the sides of the knife.

This style of blade making is called Kasumi, meaning “mist.” It’s called that because the rippling on the blade resembles mist. Knives made by this process are beautiful, strong, and stain-resistant.

Some of Shun’s knives, like the Premier collection, are also made using a process called tsuchime (Tsoo-CHEE-may). Tsuchime means “hammered” because these knives have divots along the top of the blade.

The hammered finish gives the knives a beautiful finish that resembles ancient Japanese knives. Besides looking good, the divots reduce drag, so the knives will seamlessly cut through all meats or vegetables without the food sticking.

Lastly, the Shun Sora collection is made with the San Mai technique, in which a hard steel core is surrounded by shock-absorbing softer steel.

The core in this collection is VG10 stainless steel, which is extremely hard and retains sharpness well, but can be brittle and prone to chipping, thus the need for support from softer, more durable metal.

Blade Material

Shun makes its blades with high-quality steels, including Dual-Core VG10/VG2, VG-MAX, VG10, and AUS10A. All of the steel composites used by Shun are high-grade and capable of holding an incredibly sharp edge.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each:

Dual-Core VG10/VG2: This steel is used to make the blades in the Dual-Core collection. The two metals are layered together and roll-forged to create a fine-grained Japanese stainless steel that will take and hold a sharp edge.

VG10: This steel is part of the blades in both the Dual-Core and Sora collections. It’s an alloy made up of many different metals and elements to help improve desirable blade characteristics such as wear resistance, corrosion resistance, hardness, and toughness.

VG-MAX: This proprietary steel is used to make blades in the Premier, Classic, and Seki Magoroku collections. It’s a step up in quality from VG-10 and includes carbon, chromium, tungsten, Molybdenum, and Vanadium. Each element contributes to the blade’s strength, durability, and cutting performance.

AUS10A: The Kanso collection utilizes this steel. It’s a high-carbon steel that holds an edge well and is corrosion-resistant. It’s decent quality but doesn’t compare to VG-10 or VG-MAX, which is why Kanso is one of Shun’s most affordable collections.

Handle Material

Most Shun handles are made of PakkaWood, a durable composite of hardwood and resin. Although the wood is impregnated with resin, it has the appearance of natural hardwood, and no two handles are the same.

With PakkaWood, you get the elegant graining and natural beauty of wood and the moisture-resistance and durability of a synthetic material.

Shun PakkaWood handle
Shun PakkaWood handle

The Kanso collection features handles made of Tagayasan, another name for wenge wood. This dark-grained wood is hard and durable and will last a lifetime.

The Sora collection features handles made of polypropylene/thermoplastic elastomer. This synthetic material doesn’t offer the beauty of wood but boasts a slight texture that provides an excellent grip.

Despite the variety, all of the materials used to make Shun knives are high quality.

Edge Grind

Most of Shun’s knives feature double-beveled edges. However, the Sora collection has San Mai edges, and the Dual-Core Yanagiba knife has a single-bevel edge.

A double-bevel edge grind means the knife is sharpened to an angle on both sides of the blade, creating a point. Double-bevel is the most common type of edge grind because it’s durable, easy to sharpen, and can handle any cutting task.

A San Mai edge is similar to double-bevel but features a hard steel core surrounded by softer steel.

A single-bevel edge, found only on Shun’s Dual-Core Yanagiba knife, is when the blade is ground to an extremely sharp angle on one side.

Compared to double-bevel, single-bevel edges are much sharper but more susceptible to chipping. This type of grind is ideal for slicing raw fish and meat.

Design

Shun knives are designed to showcase the Japanese craftsmanship in which they are made.

They currently offer eight collections, so the style varies. However, the overall aesthetic is classical Japanese.

As an example, let’s take a look at the Shun Classic 8-inch Chef’s knife, the brand’s most popular knife.

Shun Classic Chefs Knife

When you look at this knife, the first thing you notice is the wavy pattern of the Damascus steel.

Shun kitchen knife blade

While it serves a practical purpose (reducing drag and preventing food from sticking), the pattern adds an air of elegance and intrigue.

The ebony PakkaWood handle is an excellent complement to the beauty of the blade. It features subtle grains, making it more elegant than rustic.

Shun Classic PakkaWood handle
Shun Classic PakkaWood handle

One of the most unique features of Shun knives is the D-shaped handles featured in the Classic collection. If you’re looking down at the knife, the right side of the handle is curved while the left side is flatter.

Shun D-Shaped Handles
Shun D-Shaped Handles

That prevents the knife from rotating in your hand. The curved side bends perfectly with your knuckles if you’re right-handed but can make the grip a bit awkward for lefties (although Shun claims its D-shaped handles are ambidextrous).

Overall, the result of this design is an excellent combination of style and practicality. It’s lightweight, easy to maneuver, and aesthetically pleasing — the type of knife you won’t want to hide away in a drawer when guests come over.

Besides the Classic collection, Shun offers several other options with different but equally functional and aesthetic designs.

The Kanso collection features slanted, ergonomic-shaped Tagayasan-wooden handles with two rivets. The blades boast a fine-grained design that hides scratches. The result isn’t as flashy as the Classic series, but they still stand apart from western cutlery. Check out my in-depth comparison of Shun Kanso vs. Classic to learn more.

Shun Cutlery Kanso 8-Inch Stainless Steel, All Purpose, Durable, Essential, Handcrafted Japanese Gyuto Style Chef’s Knife; Scratch Resistant Heritage Finish for Kitchen Food Preparation Tasks at Home

The Premier collection has walnut PakkaWood handles similar to the Classic collection but a bit shorter and fatter. However, what sets this collection apart is the blades.

Shun Cutlery Premier 8” Chef’s Knife; Lightweight, Agile, Extremely Comfortable Grip, Perfect for Slicing, Dicing and Chopping a Full Range of Foods, Beautiful and Versatile, Handcrafted in Japan

Premier blades feature a hammered pattern on the top half and a swirly Damascus pattern closer to the edge. It’s a truly striking look.

Check out this head-to-head comparison of Shun Premier vs. Classic to learn more.

The Sora collection features black synthetic handles with a slanted shape (similar to the Kaso collection) and a steel Shun medallion embossed toward the butt end. This is Shun’s entry-level collection, so it’s not as elegant as some of the others. However, this collection’s 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is one the best you can buy for under $100 (price varies by retailer).

Shun Sora Chef's Knife, 8 Inch, Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan, VB0706, Black

The Dual-Core collection features traditional octagon-shaped PakkaWood handles and blades made of 71 alternating micro-layers of VG10 & VG2 steel. These micro-layers create a unique swirl pattern on the blade that you won’t find on any other Shun knives.

Shun Dual Core VG0017 8-Inch Kiritsuke Knife

Performance

Overall, Shun cutlery delivers everything you could want in a kitchen knife. These knives are sharp, sturdy, and well-balanced.

Shun knives are on the lighter side, especially when compared to popular German-style knives.

For example, the Shun Classic 8-inch Chef’s knife weighs 6.6 ounces, while the Wusthof Classic 8-inch Chef’s knife weighs 8.5 ounces. There are pros and cons to having lighter knives.

Lightweight knives are easier to maneuver, lowering the risk of wrist fatigue or injury after long periods of chopping. However, they don’t feel as solid in your hand as heavier knives. They also won’t guide their way through whatever you are cutting as steadily as heavier knives.

One aspect of Shun knives everyone can get behind is the ultra-sharp blades.

Making thin slices with a Shun kitchen knife
Cutting thin slices with a Shun kitchen knife

Shun blades are sharpened to a 16-degree angle on each side, which is incredibly sharp. They also hold an edge exceptionally well, so they will glide through even the most delicate ingredients.

One of the reasons Shun knives hold an edge so well is because they are very hard. Steel hardness is rated on the Rockwell Scale. It is generally accepted that good kitchen knives will fall between 55 and 62 on the Rockwell scale. Shun knives rate at 61, which is on the harder side.

The hardness of Shun blades means that they will hold an edge and stay razor-sharp much longer than softer knives.

The downside to hard steel is that the edge is more prone to chipping, which is the most common complaint people have about Shun knives.  While they are not fragile knives, they aren’t workhorses either. You need to be careful around bones, seeds, and other hard ingredients.

Lastly, the Damascus-clad blades and hammered blades have texture on the blade, which helps with food release. Sticky ingredients like fish or garlic are less likely to stick to the blade; however, don’t expect everything to slide right off. I found that some ingredients, such as bananas and strawberries, need a slight shake to slip off the blade. 

Slicing a strawberry with a Shun kitchen knife

Shun knives are best suited for precision work, like slicing sushi or julienning vegetables. Although they can certainly handle the demands of everyday cooking, they’re optimized for more elegant applications.

Price

Shun knives are top-of-the-line, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they are priced at the high end of the market.

Although all Shun knives are expensive, the price varies by collection. The Dual Core collection is the most costly, while the Sora and Kanso collections are the most affordable. Classic, the brand’s best-selling collection, falls in the middle.

The chart below shows the current prices of the most popular products in each collection. Click the prices to learn more about each knife or set on Amazon.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Lifetime Warranty and Sharpening Service

Included at the higher price is Shun’s limited lifetime warranty. Shun will repair or replace any knife that is damaged or defective due to improper construction or material defects. They also cover the wood accents of the knife for 90 days.

Shun offers a lifetime sharpening service for their non-serrated knives. So if you ever need your Shun knife sharpened, send it to Shun, and they will sharpen it for free (you pay for shipping).

Downsides

While there’s a lot to love about Shun knives, they aren’t perfect. Like anything else, these knives have downsides.

Expensive

Shun knives are expensive. If cost is the only thing holding you back, I recommend buying one piece at a time. I recommend starting with a chef’s knife and a paring knife and build your collection from there.

Edge Is Prone to Chipping

Since Shun makes its blades with hard steel, the edges are prone to chipping. So don’t slam the edge against hard surfaces like ceramic, glass, or marble (stick to wood cutting boards and use a smooth slicing motion).

The good news is that you can easily sharpen the microchips out. But if you’re unable to restore the edge on your own, contact Shun’s warranty department. They have an excellent reputation for making things right to keep their customers happy.

Wood Handles

Another downside to Shun knives is that most have wood handles. While these handles look great, they are more prone to fading and moisture damage than synthetic handles.

A wood handle needs proper care and maintenance, while a synthetic polymer handle does not. If you don’t want to deal with the added maintenance, consider the Shun Sora collection, which features synthetic handles.

D-Shaped Handles

Shun Classic handles are D-shaped, meaning they aren’t entirely cylindrical. Depending on what you are used to, a new handle can feel unfamiliar and awkward, especially for left-handed cooks.

Lightweight

Shun knives are very light. While that’s a benefit for repetitive tasks, you will need more force to drive the knife through thicker or harder ingredients.

While German knives like Wusthof or Zwilling are heavy enough to do the work for you, Shun knives lack the weight needed to guide through some food.

What Others Are Saying About Shun

Shun has an excellent reputation, particularly among knife experts. Here is what some reviewers are saying about Shun knives.

In its list of the 12 Best Kitchen Knives, Good Housekeeping named the Shun Classic 6-inch Chef’s Knife the best knife for small hands. The reviewers applauded the blade’s sharpness and commented that the PakkaWood handle fits comfortably in small hands.

In The Strategist’s article, The 15 Best Kitchen Knives, the reviewers called the Shun Classic 8-inch Chef’s Knife the best 8-inch Japanese chef’s knife. They pointed out the glowing user reviews. They also stated that the higher price is justified for a knife that will last a lifetime.

In its Japanese knife guide, Gear Patrol recommended multiple Shun knives, pointing out that they have a reputation for an overall superior product.

Men’s Health listed the Shun Premier 8-inch Chef’s Knife as the second pick on its list of the best Japanese knives. The reviewers lauded the design and performance, saying, “… this premium heat-treated knife is delicate, yet agile.”

The Spruce named the Shun Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife the Best Overall Japanese Knife. The reviewers praised the hammered finish on the blade and “comfortable and effortless” handle grip.

FAQs About Shun Kitchen Knives

Do you still have questions about Shun kitchen knives? Below are the most frequently asked questions about the brand.

Where can I purchase Shun knives?

You can buy Shun knives in-store from authorized retailers or on Amazon.

Why do Shun edges chip?

Most knife chips are due to improper technique or maintenance. For example, cutting on hard surfaces or forcefully slamming the knife down can cause the edge to chip. With Shun knives, use a soft, wood cutting board and glide the knife through the ingredients, allowing the sharp edge to do the work.

Are Shun knives dishwasher-safe?

You should never wash Shun knives in your dishwasher. Dishwashers cause knives to shift around, which can chip in the blade. Knives can also be flung around by the water pressure, causing damage to your dishwasher and other dishes.

Can you use an electric sharpener to sharpen Shun knives?

Yes. Just be sure the knife sharpener is at the proper 16-degree angle. For best results, use one of Shun’s many sharpening products. The company offers a pull-through sharpener,  whetstone sharpening system, and honing steel. If you’re not comfortable sharpening on your own, take advantage of the brand’s free sharpening service.

How often do I need to sharpen Shun knives?

This depends on how often you use your knives, but Shun recommends honing weekly and only sharping occasionally (once every couple of months for the average home cook).

If you’re not familiar, honing realigns the steel back to the center without grinding the steel. Sharpening removes bits of steel, revealing a new sharper edge.

Are Shun Knives forged or stamped?

All Shun knives are forged.

Do Shun knives come with sheaths?

Shun knows that most of their customers place their knives in a block, so they have chosen to ship their knives with temporary cardboard sheaths. The company claims this is to lower the amount of waste associated with their product. The Dual Core collection is a notable exception, as the knives come with a wooden sheath for storage.

Who makes Shun knives?

Shun is owned by the KAI Group, a Japanese blade company. All Shun knives are manufactured in Seki City, Japan.

Bottom Line: Are Shun Kitchen Knives Worth It?

Shun has an incredible reputation in the cutlery industry, and it is well earned. The knives are beautifully made, aesthetically pleasing, and ultra-sharp.

The most common complaint about Shun knives is that the edges chip easily due to the hardness of the steel. While this can be a dealbreaker for the uninitiated, it can easily be mitigated by proper care and technique.

To avoid chipping, use a forward and back motion when cutting. Don’t cut straight down, slamming your knife into your cutting board. Also, only wash by hand with a damp cloth or sponge.

Shun’s dedication to tradition is apparent in the thoughtful design and quality construction of its knives. When using a Shun knife, it is evident that extra care was taken at every step in the process.

Bottom line — if you’re looking for premium Japanese-style kitchen knives, Shun should be at the top of your list. They’re expensive but absolutely worth the price because you get gorgeous handcrafted knives that perform as well as they look.

In fact, after testing it against its biggest competitors, I named Shun the best Japanese kitchen knife brand in the world and one of the five best brands, period.

Miyabi (owned by Zwilling) is the only other brand of Japanese-style knives that offers similar variety, performance, and design, but many of their knives are more expensive. If you’re interested in learning more before deciding whether to buy Shun, check out my in-depth comparison of Miyabi vs. Shun.

If you’re ready to buy or just want to read other reviews and learn more, check out Shun kitchen knives on Amazon.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He’s been studying consumer buying behavior for over a decade and has managed marketing campaigns for over a dozen Fortune 500 brands. When he’s not testing the latest home products, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn or via email.

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